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The Scarlet & Black

Column: Hate-Free Grinnell: Parallels Everywhere

Oftentimes, we as Grinnellians consider ourselves elite. We attend one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country, we worked hard in high school to get here and now that we’re here, we still work as hard—only we play hard as well. That elite attitude, however, was swiftly brought down a notch last year by the series of hate crimes that took place on our campus.

Campus was shocked and outraged, and for good reason. The culture of tolerance, acceptance and openness we considered ourselves to be a part of had been violated, and by some of our own. Our reaction to these events, however, was beautiful to see. Hugs, laughter and deep, meaningful conversations were the instruments we used to combat the hate that had stricken our community. As a group of like-minded and intelligent individuals, in true Grinnellian style, we began a dialogue that is not yet over and that will continue to occur hopefully for a long time to come.

Now, as the anniversary of those events has come and gone, we should pause and take a moment not only to reflect on the issues and struggles our own community is facing, but to consider the events of recent history, and their significance to Grinnell (history majors everywhere, rejoice). You see, our community isn’t the only one attempting to reconcile with a past we might not be so proud of—there are real parallels here to the global community, beyond the bubble of Grinnell.

The Second World War saw a lot of hate—more, possibly, than our (arguably) sheltered Grinnellian minds would wish to dwell on, or even critically analyze in a paper for class. Like Grinnell, however, many communities in Europe are still dealing with the aftermath of the atrocities of a war long since decided—a war that ended over 60 years ago.

In Malbork, Poland, construction workers recently uncovered evidence of a mass grave located in front of a famous tourist attraction, building a new luxury hotel. Instead of being filled with victims of Nazi crimes however, the graves were filled with Germans—nearly 2,000 of them, believed to be victims of the Soviets, or the widespread famine and disease the end of the war heralded. It is easy to overlook that while the Germans were considered the aggressors of the war, and while the death camps the Nazis built were truly inexcusable, both sides suffered greatly. Maybe not proportionally, granted, but our generation is still (thankfully) ill-equipped to be the judges of suffering on the scale of that witnessed by our parents and grandparents.

This grave, which perhaps would have been expected to hold victims of Nazi aggression, instead holds German victims. The citizens of Malbork, now faced with the realization that Germans, not Poles, were quite possibly slaughtered in their town, have had to come to terms with their long-held grudges. I don’t presume to speak for the citizens of Malbork, but simply imagine the frustration and anger they might hold towards the aggressors of the war, and the long-stoked belief in German guilt. And then, imagine finding those very same aggressors in a mass grave in your town. Who was to blame?

As the discovery of the grave site demonstrates, any human suffering is still horrendous. Even those people believed to be the aggressors by some were burdened with loss and pain, and the citizens of Malbork must accept that this time, the guilt can’t be placed on Nazi hands. This time, Malbork must not turn aside in the face of suffering, regardless of who the victim was and work to counter the long-held grudge towards German involvement in the atrocities of the war.

That same lesson can be applied to Grinnell—or rather, Grinnell can apply it elsewhere. “Hate Free Grinnell” should not just be a campaign limited to our community, but an idea sparked here, that can spread elsewhere.

Yes, it is an extremely optimistic and probably false hope to have, but it is hope nonetheless. As Grinnellians, we should recognize that everyone faces hate, not just our community. So keep the conversation going … in Grinnell, Malbork, and elsewhere—not just here.

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